(A brief pause while I take a look outside…. No, everything seems intact; an unexpected outbreak of blogging here has not caused a rupture in the space/time continuum.)
Since I had such a wonderful time in Boston over the 2012 Memorial Day weekend visiting my non-biological twin, I decided that I should consider starting a new tradition. So last when AnnieR, my best friend from college, asked me when I was going to visit her in Brooklyn, I realized it was time to revisit my roots.
My roots are New York. I grew up in the Hudson Valley–Peekskill, NY, to be precise. The mix of trees (especially the sugar maples), the old rock of the Appalachians, and a river that’s really an estuary form the landscape of my dreams and the default setting for most of my fiction. The last time I’d visited was 1991 when we broke down my grandmother’s apartment. It wasn’t a cheerful time; I left with a sense that I wouldn’t be coming back.
I never thought I’d go a decade between visits to NYC, though, but except for a funeral in 2008 (in the midst of the financial-crash), the planets hadn’t aligned. To my dismay, I was a bit uneasy as I planned my Memorial Day visit — maybe I’d been gone too long and the city’s rhythms would no longer awaken in my blood.
Fortunately, everything was quickly familiar when I stepped off the plane. AnnieR took the scenic route from Queens to Brooklyn (that’s the one that goes through Manhattan). I’d have say that unlike everywhere else I’ve been in the past five years, the Great Recession hasn’t seemed to slow NYC down…if anything, there was more flashy construction going on than I ever remember seeing. And there’s a lot more green. Central Park has always been a treasure, but now there are parks and “parklets” in places that, frankly, used to be distinctly off-limits.
The first evening, we walked down to one of the new parks–the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has completely erased a forbidding tangle of docks and warehouses. We were dodging rain and mist, but I got a good, long look at the new Freedom Tower. It’s a much more elegant building than the Twin Towers were. When all’s said and done, aesthetics had never been part of the Towers’ equation; they were meant to be strident…kind of like the rest of NYC, which is perhaps why the new building didn’t quite fill the hole in my memory.
The next day, we went up to the Cloisters where I reacquainted myself with the Unicorn Tapestries and their collection of Opus Anglicanum embroidery. It was rainy and surprisingly cool — at least for someone who’s been living in Florida for the past sixteen years — so I didn’t spend much time in the cloisters themselves (Except to take a few pictures…which are probably identical to the pictures I’ve taken every other time I visit…some things never change.)
Sunday, with the weather improving, we took our trip up the Hudson. I tried to find point of land where my grandparents had lived in the 60s but nothing (or everything) looked quite the same as I remembered, so that wish went unfulfilled. I did better in Peekskill where not only did I find all the places I’d hoped to revisit, I found that they were remarkably unchanged…that is, most of the houses were at least forty years old when I left in 1965 and most of them are about fifty years older now…and they seemed, overall, to have been well cared for. It wasn’t that things had been frozen in time, just that there hasn’t been a wholesale effort to McMansion-ize.
AnnieR braved the Bear Mountain Parkway for me (they’ve replace the dragon-teeth boulders with actual guardrails!) so we could have a late lunch at the Bear Mountain Inn before driving up to the Perkins Memorial. I’ve been fortunate enough visit places with more spectacular views…places where the scale and grandeur are larger-than-life. The Hudson Valley, to me anyway, is human-scaled; it’s beautiful, but also safe and inviting.
On the last day of my visit, since my plane wasn’t leaving until late, we went back to Manhattan for a walk along the High Line which confirmed beyond all doubt that NYC has embraced open, liveable environments in a way that was scarcely imaginable when I lived there. It has almost completely gentrified itself. We walked north to south so we could finish our journey at the Chelsea Market, which in my day was the “Old Nabisco Building” located in a rusty, near-derelict neighborhood that nobody in their right mind visited after sundown.
On the plus side, it’s great to be able to walk the old elevated railbed, surrounded by art and grass or grab some truly fantastic Italian food for a gourmet lunch, but there’s a hidden price — there’s no baking going on, no meat-packing, no sewing or tailoring left in the Lower West Side. It’s a great place to visit (or to live, if you can afford it), but it’s no longer a place where things are made…and I can’t begin to imagine what that means for the future.
My own future is, I hope, a little clearer. AnnieR had retired (!) the day before I arrived. Freed from the need to work around workdays and weekends, I foresee us exchanging visits on a regular schedule.
(I’ve loaded my pictures into a fancy NextGen Gallery, in case anyone wants to see a bit of what I saw…)